Fagus at Tarn Shelf
(Photograph by Steve Johnson)
Mt Field is one of Tasmania's most diverse national parks. From the tall forests at the base of the mountain to the unique alpine plants at its summit, this national park offers the visitor an array of natural wonders. The wheelchair grade walk to Russell Falls is the most popular track in the park. Through a forest of towering tree ferns, this level path will take you to the beautiful Russell Falls. For many people, this three-tier waterfall is the prettiest in Tasmania. Don't miss it.
The winding road that leads to the higher slopes of the mountain pass through an ever-changing succession of plant communities. Interestingly, Mt Field is unusual in that plant diversity increases with altitude. The Pandani Grove walk around Lake Dobson is the perfect place to discover some of the park's bizare alpine species. With patience, and a little luck, you may even see a platypus in the lake. Early morning and late evenings are the best times to be on the lookout.
For Hobart residents, Mt Field is a close and well-loved skiing venue. Often during the winter months, tows operate on the slopes; however, since there is no guarantee that they will be operating it is best to check the Southern Tasmanian Ski Association web site, at http://stsa.webbed.com.au/ or phone 6288 1166. Down-hill, snow boarding and cross country skiing are popular. From the ski huts, a well marked track leads you to the spectacular Tarn Shelf, a stunning, lake-ridden shelf that was carved out by the force of glaciers from the previous Ice Age. During autumn, the slopes of the mountains which back onto Tarn Shelf become a riot of colour as the fagus, or decidious beech, turns gold and red and orange.
The many other walks available in the park are outlined in our section on activities.
Towering swamp gums are a feature
of the Tall Trees walk
Among the many natural heritage values to be found within the park are:
Full details of the history of Mt Field can be found on our history and heritage pages.
Details of the Natural and Cultural Highlights of Mt Field
The park lies to the west of the Derwent Graben, formed during the mid-Tertiary. Outcropping to the west of the park, and underlying it as basement rock, are strongly folded older successions of Ordovician and Siluro-Devonian sediments including the Gordon limestone and its equivalents. Jurassic dolerite is ubiquitous above about 760 metres, with Triassic and Permian sediments outcropping at lower altitudes.
The Triassic and Jurassic rocks of the park and reserves show strong Gondwanic links with those of the Transantarctic Mountains in Antarctica. The Triassic sequence of sedimentary rocks is very uniform, non-marine in origin and contains evidence of lacustrine and fluvial conditions with basic intrusive material. The basalt dyke visible near Mt Bridges above Lake Seal is evidence of a recent intrusion in the faulted dolerite. The Jurassic dolerite (170 million years old) provides a firm link with Antarctica being of identical age.
Lady Barron Falls, Horseshoe Falls and Russell Falls are composed of horizontally bedded marine Permian siltstone benches. The vertical faces of the waterfalls are composed of the more resistant sandstone layers along vertical joint.
Mount Field contains excellent examples of landforms produced by various Pleistocene glaciations. During the period of maximum Pleistocene glaciation, a permanent snowfield covered the top of the Mt Field plateau that fed surrounding valley glaciers. The higher peaks of the park were nunataks of rock exposed above the snowfields. The largest glacier, up to 12 kilometres long, formed the Broad River Valley. The remnants of the most extensive ice action in the park are visible in the terminal moraines of the Broad River Valley and the huge cirque walls above Lake Seal. The numerous tarns on Tarn Shelf are an excellent illustration of glacial scouring. Twisted Tarn and Twilight Tarn are reminders of the glacier that flowed down from Lake Newdegate to Lake Webster. Another glacier flowed south from the Rodway Range to form Lakes Belcher and Belton, and north from the Rodways to form the Hayes Valley and Lake Hayes.
To the east, another glacier flowed from the snowfields of Mt Field East, Kangaroo Moor and Wombat Moor, terminating just below the level of the present Lake Fenton, which was dammed by extensive block streams. The blockstream which dams Lake Fenton is considered an outstanding example of a periglacial blockstream. These block streams are a feature of the slopes of Mt Monash south of the lake. Two other glaciers further east produced Lake Nicholls, Lake Rayner and Beatties Tarn.
The string bog at the northern end of the Rodway Range is probably the best example of this type of landform in Tasmania. It is a series of small terraced ponds which appear to have been dammed by a combination of glacial debris, peat and vegetation, possibly on the steps of an underlying blockstream.
In the upper park alpine humus and highly leached podzolic soils predominate with the podzols frequently occurring on deep periglacial solifluction deposits which mantle the slopes down to about 450 metres.
Alluvial floodplains in the lower park along the Tyenna River have developed on deep deposits of Quaternary alluvium and are considered to have geoconservation value due to ubiquitous disturbance of similar soils elsewhere in the State. These soils are moderately prone to natural erosion from flooding as well as erosion resulting from human activity or grazing activities on riverbanks.
The Junee-Florentine karst covers an area of about 18,500 ha and contains more then 500 documented cave entrances, including many deep and long caves. Niggly Cave (375 m), which is located inside the park, is probably the current deepest explored cave in Australia. Other important caves are Junee Cave (at Junee Cave State Reserve), Beginners Luck, Welcome Stranger, Frankcombes Cave, Cashions Creek Cave and Growling Swallet. Many of the caves are part of a much larger system which water tracing has shown to be linked to an underground stream network that is the source of the Junee River at Junee Cave. The western part of the park and the Junee Cave State Reserve are located within the karst catchment and contain numerous significant karst features of high geoconservation value. State forest adjacent to the park and reserves also contains significant caves and karst features, including caves linked to the Junee River system.
The majority of caves in the area are accessible only to very experienced cavers, only Junee Cave is suitable for visits by the general public.
The park has long been recognised as an area with a high degree of floristic diversity relative to other Tasmanian mountains. This is a result of various influences including the park's geographic location central to both the eastern and western floras of Tasmania, the range of geological substrates present including dolerite, sandstone, and quartzite, and its altitudinal range which extends from lowland to alpine habitats. There are more than 433 higher plant species recorded in the park and reserves (see Plant Species List) of which 261 are dicots, 125 are monocots, eight are conifers, and 39 are ferns or fern allies.
The lower zone, from 158 m to 670 m, comprises tall open forest dominated by swamp gum Eucalyptus regnans and/or stringybark E. obliqua, with a wet understorey characterised by musk, Olearia argophylla. The middle zone, from 670 m to 940 m, is closed rainforest or mixed forest, with the rainforest element dominated by myrtle Nothofagus cunninghamii and sassafras, Atherosperma moschatum with an understory of celery-top pine, Phyllocladus aspleniifolius. The upper zone, from 880 m to 1220 m, is subalpine woodland dominated by the endemic Tasmanian snow gum E. coccifera. In common with other parts of Tasmania, species richness in the park increases with altitude.
The alpine communities found on the tops of the mountains and plateaux of the park are characterised by a mosaic of heath, herbfield, bogs and bolster moor communities. The distribution of these communities depends upon drainage, wind protection and the depth and duration of snow lie. Cushion plants are interspersed with pineapple grass bogs and occur on the most exposed and wettest areas of the plateaux. Sphagnum bogs are found around alpine and sub-alpine lakes and tarns.
The subalpine forests and woodlands of the park are characterised by several Tasmanian endemic conifers including: the pencil pine, Athrotaxis cupressoides found around the higher lakes and tarns of the park; the King Billy pine, Athrotaxis selaginoides; and several dwarf pine species including mountain plum pine Podocarpus lawrencii, creeping pine Microcachrys tetragona; cheshunt pine Diselma archeri; and dwarf pine Microstrobos niphophilus.
Some species are restricted to certain drainage basins in the park. The Broad River Valley contains the greatest diversity of communities in the park. The Tasmanian endemic cider gum, Eucalyptus gunnii, small fruit hakea, Hakea microcarpa and Grevillea australis appear to be restricted to the northern part of the Broad River Valley. Buttongrass, Gymnoschoenus sphaerocephalus; bottlebrush, Callistemon viridiflorus; Lepyrodia tasmanica and Leptocarpus tenax; are all restricted to the Broad and Humboldt River basins. Fine-leaved hop bush, Dodonaea ericifolia is restricted to the Lake Emmett region, and sticky everlasting, Helichrysum antennarium is virtually restricted to the Lady Barron basin. Richea milliganii is found in the park only in the Humboldt basin.
Species and Communities of High Conservation Value
The park's forest communities have been mapped as part of the comprehensive regional assessment for the Tasmania-Commonwealth Regional Forest Agreement. The priority forest communities identified in the park are: Eucalyptus coccifera forest; both tall and medium Eucalyptus delegatensis forest; Eucalyptus obliqua wet forest; Eucalyptus regnans forest; and both callidendrous and thamnic rainforest.
The importance of the park for vegetation conservation means that conservation of plant communities is one of the major considerations of management. At least 13 of the vascular plant species recorded in the park are listed on the Tasmanian threatened species schedule because they are rare or threatened in Tasmania. A number of other species are listed by the Flora Advisory Committee (1994) as rare in Tasmania but have not been given status under the Threatened Species Protection Bill 1996.
The park is particularly significant for the representation of a high diversity of wet sclerophyll forest communities, including at least eight different types. The Eucalyptus regnans - E. obliqua wet forest community that occurs along the Lady Barron Track between the Old Farm and the falls is considered to be poorly reserved. The park is also an important reserve for alpine communities which occupy about 14% of its area. Included amongst the alpine assemblages of significance are a series of string bogs at Newdegate pass that are extremely rare and unusual.
Although the park and reserves have a legal status which offers a high level of protection, threats to the fauna of the park and reserves include: fire in alpine areas and rainforest, human impact related to feeding of wildlife and disturbance, poisons used in adjacent eucalypt and pine plantations, disease, and predation by and competition with, exotic species for food and nesting sites.
The great majority of Tasmania's native terrestrial and arboreal mammals occur within the park. The diversity of habitats within the park's relatively small area is responsible for such a diversity of species. Species that are either extinct or endangered on the mainland are found in the park, such as the eastern quoll Dasyurus viverrinus and the eastern barred bandicoot Perameles gunnii.
The last Tasmanian tiger, Thylacinus cynocephalus to be seen in the Hobart Zoo was trapped in the nearby Florentine Valley in 1933.
Birds have taken advantage of the range of altitudes and habitats available, and consequently many species are found within the park and reserves. This includes 11 of the 12 Tasmanian endemic species such as the Tasmanian native hen Gallinula mortierii. The ecologically important, but not endemic, grey or clinking currawong Strepera versicolor arguta, a key disperser of fleshy fruited plants, is also present in the park and reserves, as is the endemic Black Currawong,
Reptiles and Amphibians
Several species of amphibians and reptiles occur, including the endemic Tasmanian froglet Crinia tasmaniensis. Skinks in the park include two endemics, the southern snow skink Niveoscincus microlepidotus, only found above 1000 metres, and the Tasmanian tree skink N. pretiosus, found in tall wet forest.
Lake Fenton is an important type locality for a number of endemic moths. Invertebrates of particular interest include Plesiothele fentoni, a spider believed to be extinct until recently found around the edges of Lake Fenton, and the vulnerable carabid beetle, Geodetechus parallelus, an obligate cave dweller only known from the Junee-Florentine caves. Other rare invertebrates occurring in the alpine and subalpine communities of the park include the vulnerable alpine day-flying moth Dirce aesiodora and the cushion plant moth Nemotyla oribates. The caddisfly, Diplectrona castanea, is considered to be extinct, as it has not been recorded since 1936, despite limited searches. The mountain shrimp Anaspides tasmaniae, first described in 1893, is found in many alpine pools and tarns of the park.
Also found in the park are ancient taxa of scale insects and mealy bugs that have not yet been described at the species level in Tasmania, and whose closest relatives are found in New Zealand. The wide range of habitats in the park provide for an exceptional range of species.
Limited archaeological surveys in the park have shown that Aborigines used the land and waters of the park; more extensive surveys of the nearby Florentine Valley have shown Aboriginal occupation of over 30,000 years.
To date there have been no systematic archaeological surveys conducted in the park and reserves. Two Aboriginal sites have been identified inside the park boundaries, located near Lake Fenton and Lake Dobson. These consist of an isolated artefact find and an artefact scatter. Evidence of Aboriginal occupation has been found outside the park in several caves near the Florentine River, dating from the Pleistocene.
It has been suggested that the park fell within the territory of the Big River people, who occupied territory ranging from the Great Western Tiers to Mount Wellington. The Pangerninghe band located at the junction of the Derwent and Clyde Rivers near the present-day township of Hamilton, were the closest band to the park and reserves area.
Early reports by white settlers noted the presence of Aboriginal people in the Russell Falls area. One such report dated 1827 noted an Aboriginal party of some 60 persons engaged in a skirmish with landowner Charles Abbott's servants, until the overseer arrived and "prudently settled all differences by the distribution of some provision amongst them" (The Tasmanian, 16 November 1827 p.2 col.1.).
Historical sites in the park are associated with tourism, trout fishing, skiing, road and track building and water schemes. The major historical features in the park include the Lake Fenton Hut, Twilight Tarn Hut and associated artefacts, Lake Dobson Road historical sites, the Government Huts, waterworks at Lake Fenton, early access tracks, the 'Old Farm' area, some of the recreation facilities at the entrance area of the park and logging remains.
From the 1830s, trappers and snarers worked the high country around Mt Field, coming in from Montos Marsh (now Ellendale). Bushrangers and escaped convicts were known to have hidden out in the country around Bushy Park in the 1840s, trapping and taking advantage of local farms such as Fenton Forest.
Prior to 1910, the only access to the high country was by pack track from Ellendale. In 1869, the eminent botanist Baron von Mueller visited Mt Field East on a week-long collecting trek, guided by the Rayner brothers, local trappers. He described the snow gum (Eucalyptus coccifera), the urn gum (E. urnigera), the cider gum (E. gunnii) and cushion plants (Donatia novaezelandie) from the meadows around Lake Fenton. The botanist Leonard Rodway also explored the area from the 1850s.
The first non-Aboriginal to encounter Russell Falls was a settler named Browning in 1856. The falls became known as Brownings Falls until about 1884 when confusion caused them to be referred to as Russell Falls, and by the turn of the century, the name was firmly established. The original Russell Falls, named for a member of an exploration party in the Derwent Valley, was actually located on the Tyenna River, which was previously known as Russell Falls River. Frodsham surveyed the area in 1884, and the Falls Reserve was proclaimed in 1885.
Early Tourism and Recreational Use
In 1893 the Tasmanian Tourist Association was formed to promote Tasmania's scenic wonders of Mt Wellington, Russell Falls and the Hartz Mountains. In 1899 Tasmania was the first British colony to issue scenic stamps, including ones of Russell Falls. The development of a railway network that extended to the park in the early 1900s made it a popular destination. Marriott's Guesthouse was built in 1911 at the present day entrance to the park to accommodate visitors. Sightseeing, walking and fishing were the most popular activities.
Perhaps as early as 1870, and in 1893, introduced trout species were released into the park’s lakes to develop the sport fishing potential of the area.
Skiing and ice-skating became popular in the 1920s, leading to the formation of the Ski Club of Tasmania is 1926. This group built the hut at Twilight Tarn. It took a full day to reach it along the old Pack Track. Many artefacts from this era are displayed in the Twilight Tarn Hut. In 1941 huts were also built at Lake Fenton for skiers. The opening of the Lake Dobson Road in 1937 made access much easier for winter sports, and skifield development at Mt Mawson took off after World War II.
Construction of the Lake Dobson Road
Work was begun on the Lake Dobson Road in 1934 and largely completed in 1937, using local unemployed labour. A post, wire and rail fence was erected on the low side of the road as part of this construction program and remains of the fence can still be seen in many places. The road originally finished at Lake Fenton and a motor vehicle shed was built there in 1936.
Lake Fenton Water Scheme
In 1922 the Public Works Department surveyed the park as a source of fresh water for Hobart and towns between. When the road was completed, the Lake Fenton water supply scheme was undertaken, involving construction in the park of a dam wall and siphon tunnel capable of releasing eighteen million litres of water per day into the Lady Barron Creek. The water is captured in a weir lower down the mountain, just outside of the park, and piped 65 kilometres to Hobart. The scheme was opened in 1939, and the dam wall was raised in 1954. The level of the lake can be drawn down eight metres from full supply level.
Due to fears of polluting the Lake Fenton/Lady Barron Creek water supply, the road was extended to Lake Dobson. The Lake Fenton huts were removed and rebuilt as the Government Huts closer to Lake Dobson, outside the Lake Fenton catchment. Only the original ranger's hut and toilet remain close to Lake Fenton.
Historic Cultural Landscape
The entrance area of the park has a long and varied history of European use and has been identified as a historic cultural landscape.
The Crommelin Botanic Gardens were constructed in 1967 in the area north of Russell Falls Creek by the park ranger. A bridge was constructed to allow a tractor to terrace the hillside, which was then planted with species from other areas of the park. Two Huon pines, a species not found in the park, have also been planted. At the same time a return link was constructed from Russell Falls along the Botanic Gardens side of the creek. Many of the specimens planted did not survive. Maintaining such a garden is incompatible with current conservation ideas, which do not support the use of national parks and reserves as botanic gardens, but for retention and conservation of species in their native habitat and communities. The native garden established at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hobart is considered a more appropriate location.